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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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February 13, 2009 6:58 AM

Microsoft Zune split into hardware, software teams

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

CNET's Ina Fried reports that on Jan. 22, Microsoft split its Zune digital music team in two: one focused on the software and services, which it plans to expand onto other, non-Microsoft devices, and another focused on the Zune hardware.

[Update, 12:34 p.m.: Added comments from Robbie Bach, head of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, on the rationale for the change.]

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Comments | Category: Corporate organization , Devices , Mobile , Music , Zune |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

February 9, 2009 10:38 AM

Google licenses Exchange ActiveSync from Microsoft for new mobile service

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

mobile sync logos.JPG Google today launched Google Sync, a service that allows people to easily move and synchronize contacts and calendar items between devices. The company is licensing patents from Microsoft "covering Google's implementation of the Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync protocol on Google servers," according to a Microsoft statement.

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Comments | Category: Cloud computing , Devices , Google , Mobile , Online services |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 5, 2009 10:20 AM

CES: More predictions and a first wave of 'news'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

A few more CES previews and predictions out today. "[D]efinitely underwhelming" is Kara Swisher's outlook on "the annual egregious gadgetfest in Las Vegas," as well as Macworld in San Francisco.

Mini-Microsoft turns attention away from the layoff scuttlebutt to note that the company has a heap of negatives piling up. "No where to go but up? Opportunity certainly abounds."

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Comments | Category: Consumer Electronics Show , Devices , Digital media , Games & entertainment , Tech Economy , Video |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

November 11, 2008 11:01 AM

Microsoft, other tech companies outfitting hotels with latest gadgets

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The New York Times has an interesting look at how hotels are working with technology companies to provide guests access to video games, PCs and other gadgets. The first example is a partnership between Microsoft and Sheraton Hotels and Resorts to create computer lounges in the hotel lobbies, where guests can check e-mail and record video greetings using Microsoft software. But there's no mention of Sheraton's use of the Microsoft Surface tabletop computer in its Seattle, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston properties, which we reported on in August.

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Comments | Category: Devices , Games & entertainment , Miscellaneous |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

September 18, 2008 3:37 PM

Ballmer fired up at company meeting, tells employees why Microsoft wouldn't build an iPhone

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano


Employees arrive at Microsoft's annual company meeting.

At Microsoft's company meeting today, CEO Steve Ballmer was in full cheerleader mode, running around the stage, high-fiving Microsoft employees at Safeco Field, breathing hard and yelling into the microphone, said one observer, who asked to remain anonymous while describing an event that was closed to the public.

Ballmer sought to put employees' concerns to rest, particularly around competitors Google and Apple, our tipster said.

In particular, Ballmer said he is often asked why Microsoft doesn't do its own iPhone.

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September 11, 2008 8:12 AM

Microsoft, RIM working on Live Search for Blackberry

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft is working with BlackBerry maker Research In Motion to put Live Search on the popular line of smartphones. The deal could help Microsoft in its struggle to gain market share for its Internet search engine.

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September 8, 2008 10:36 AM

Zune firmware, software updates leak out ahead of schedule

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft faces a tough challenge in keeping a lid on the updates to its line of digital music players. The company has to get the devices out to the retailers who sell them to consumers and apparently those retailers don't always abide Microsoft's schedule.

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September 2, 2008 12:06 PM

Reports: Microsoft readying 120 gigabyte Zune as Apple announces 'Let's rock' event

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The portable music player war -- such as it is -- looks to be heating up. Microsoft is working on a 120 gigabyte Zune, according Zunerama, an enthusiast site. (Hat tip to Matt Rosoff, of Directions on Microsoft, writing at CNET.)

Meanwhile, Apple has scheduled an event for Sept. 9 that has all the markings of a new iPod launch.

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August 13, 2008 5:08 AM

Microsoft's Surface plans include third-party application developers

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Workers were set to install three Microsoft Surface tabletop computers at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel early this morning. My story in today's paper touches on the Seattle commercial debut of the Surface, but also details the internal deployment of the devices on Microsoft's campus going on since January.

The company is now setting its sights on third-party application developers, with a boost from the internal developers who got their hands on the Surface in the past half year, said Matt Champagne, director of Surface product management.

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August 12, 2008 9:03 AM

Microsoft Surface to make Seattle commercial debut in Sheraton Hotel

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft's much-discussed and demonstrated touch-sensing, tabletop computer will finally make a commercial appearance in Seattle tomorrow. Sheraton Hotels and Resorts -- one of the original customers for the Microsoft Surface -- plans to roll out the devices in several hotels, including the Sheraton Seattle Hotel, 1400 6th Ave.

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August 1, 2008 1:13 PM

Microsoft news roundup

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

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May 14, 2008 8:30 AM

Gates looks to the future with top CEOs, unveils 'Touch Wall'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates conceived of the CEO Summit 12 years ago as an exclusive forum to discuss technology and other issues worrying the business world's elite. It's also an excellent sales opportunity for Microsoft. This year's event kicked off last night at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle.

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May 5, 2008 9:01 PM

Microsoft updates Zune software, selling TV shows for $1.99

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft is improving the social network behind its Zune media player and online service, and adding TV shows and other video content to the Zune store.

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Comments | Category: Devices , Digital media , Games & entertainment |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

March 25, 2008 1:49 PM

Microsoft radar: Clock ticks on Yahoo; iPhone apps from Redmond?

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

After a lull before and after Easter weekend, it seems the tidbits on the Yahoo acquisition front are starting to roll in again.

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March 6, 2008 10:43 PM

Ballmer Q&A: Is Apple 'this little chihuahua you just kick away?'

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Steve Ballmer went toe-to-toe with Guy Kawasaki on Apple, dissing his MacBook Air and welcoming his suggestion that Microsoft might view the longtime rival as a "little chihuahua you just kick away."

"Arf. Arf," Ballmer responded, in a startlingly good impression of a small dog barking. He acknowledged that Apple has taken some market share from Microsoft in recent years and credited the company for the iPhone, calling it a "very prominent product."

"They're going to continue to do good work, and we're going to continue to compete with all vigor and energy," Ballmer said.

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March 6, 2008 11:06 AM

Microsoft-Yahoo bid rumors; Ballmer joins Sonics full-court press; iPhone works with Exchange

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

The New York Post chimed in this morning on Yahoo's move to postpone the deadline for nominating candidates for its board of directors -- seen as an effort to stave off Microsoft's acquisition. The Post's unnamed sources expect this to push Microsoft to take a more aggressive strategy.

"'[Microsoft CEO Steve] Ballmer is just one of many highly emotional people involved in this,'' said a source who has spoken with executives at both companies. ''Microsoft has been trying to avoid going completely hostile, but now it is going to get completely hostile.'"

More substantive details in the story, again from unnamed sources: Microsoft has readied a slate of Yahoo director candidates and could submit it as soon as next week. It is considering changing its bid to all cash. The value of the current bid, which is half stock and half cash, changes with Microsoft's stock price, and is down from $44.6 billion when it was announced to $41.5 billion, as of Wednesday's closing price.

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Comments | Category: Apple , Devices , Microsoft , Miscellaneous , Personalities , Wireless & telecom , Yahoo acquisition |Permalink | Digg Digg | Newsvine Newsvine

January 4, 2008 9:42 AM

Antitrust suit alleges iTunes dominance hurting consumers

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

InformationWeek broke the story of the antitrust lawsuit against Apple, filed New Year's Eve Day in federal court in San Jose, Calif.

In a 24-page complaint (PDF) plaintiff Stacie Somers -- a San Diego County woman who bought a 30-gigabyte iPod from Target in fall of 2005, backed by a group of big-shot antitrust attorneys -- states that Apple's iTunes online music and video store dominates the market with "approximately" 83 percent of the music market and "at least" 75 percent of the video market. It puts Apple's market share among digital music players at "more than" 90 percent for hard-drive based players and "approximately" 70 percent of the flash memory segment.

The plaintiff is seeking class-action status for the lawsuit.

Here's what the plaintiff alleges Apple is doing wrong with all that market dominance:

"Apple has engaged in tying and monopolizing behavior, placing unneeded and unjustifiable technological restrictions on its most popular products in an effort to restrict consumer choice, and to restrain what little remains of its competition in the digital music markets. Apple's CEO Steve Jobs has himself compared Apple's digital music dominance to Microsoft's computer operating system dominance, calling Apple's Music Store 'the Microsoft of music stores' in a meeting with financial analysts.

"Apple has repeatedly acted to foreclose even the possibility of competition by using its market power to force consumers to choose its products based not on their merits, but on the fact that technological restrictions and incompatibilities prevent them from buying its competitors' products."

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November 29, 2007 9:29 AM

Japanese firm builds robot running Microsoft software

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

About a year ago, Microsoft trumpeted its new software for controlling robots. Now, ZMP is selling the e-nuvo WALK, a two-legged robot that utilizes that software. It's expected to go on sale in Japan in January for $5,345.


The Associated Press has the story out of Tokyo.

Here's my coverage of Microsoft's announcement of its Robotics Studio product last December. The software was designed to be a common platform so developers could write applications that would run on several different kinds of robots.

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November 20, 2007 3:05 PM

The Kindle: A reviewer's first impressions

Posted by Mark Watanabe

You could say that Glenn Fleishman, one of the authors of the Practical Mac column, which appears in Personal Technology, is something on an early adopter. He was among the early purchasers of's Kindle electronic book reader, which was launched Monday. At least Glenn didn't have to wait in line.

Here are his first impressions of the device:

I put my hands on the new Amazon Kindle electronic book reader this afternoon, and my reaction is mixed. Amazon is trumpeting the always-networked device as solving both the problems of legibility and content delivery. It clearly has done both. But simplicity may have triumphed over usability.

Before getting into details, I should note that it's pleasant to read text on the Kindle. Despite having just four levels of gray to show images, the high density of the device's resolution -- it shows more than 160 pixels per inch -- and its clarity, stability and contrast all contribute to a very paperlike feel.

I could see Kindle replacing a stack of books and periodicals for a trip, although its monotonous text style, formatting, and justification could wear after a while. Though Amazon made good design choices, the Kindle's approach belies the importance of the 550-year tradition of typeface and book design in mechanical printing.

The Kindle is a bit of a technological marvel, I have to admit. The device is compact, and feels nice in the hands, although the design isn't up to par of its features. It feels precisely like a prototype for what the real Kindle will look like. The Kindle is full of angles, which I suppose are meant to make it easier to hold, but I find it a little awkward to use.

After plugging the Kindle into power and powering it up, I notice that I don't need to register it. I purchased it through my account, which is already preset in the Kindle.

The display takes a bit of getting used to for someone who has spent 16 years with luggables, portables, laptops, and handhelds avoiding reflection from lights. Rather, the E Ink display -- also used by the slightly cheaper, but unnetworked Sony Reader -- works best with more light on it. The 180-degree reading range is also remarkable: turn the thing nearly perpendicular to the plane of your vision, and it's still crisply readable.

I found the Kindle weighed on my hand or hands after holding it for a few minutes. The buttons for moving forward and back pages or jumping back to a previous action are large, well placed, and can be used while holding in one hand, two hands, or on a surface.

A nice touch: There's a previous and next page button on the left side, so if you hold the Kindle in your left hand, you have access to both. There's also a next page button on the right side, for two-handed operation.

I tried out a book sample (which was rather long), purchased a book, subscribed to a blog and a newspaper, and converted some documents from PDF. Purchases and conversions worked just fine.

Downloads are as fast as Amazon promised. Today's edition of The Seattle Times downloaded in its entirety -- before I had even navigated back to the home page. A several hundred page book was available in tens of seconds. Now, reading books, that's a different story.

You can't scroll on a Kindle as such. That took me by surprise; you page through it like a book and menus for bookmarking and navigation appear when you summon them.

The reason is that the E Ink display can't rapidly update. When you change pages, the "ink" is erased and then reset in a slightly disconcerting flash that the introduction to the Kindle on the device assures you is perfectly normal. It takes getting used to, and it prevents page turning from being seamless.

A nifty scroll wheel handles menu and item selection; it can be depressed like a mouse button to click on a selection. Because there's no live scrolling, a physical strip runs the height of the Kindle screen to the display's right. The bar is full of a reflective material that's selectively revealed.

As you use the scroll wheel, a section of the bar lights up as if you've scrolled to that point, next to links that are highlighted in the main page.

The interface is a bit troublesome. Navigation isn't easy. There's no button on the device to jump to the Kindle Store. Perhaps this is Amazon's nod to keeping the reader from being all about commerce. Still, I would have liked such a button.

Clicking the select wheel next to the Menu button at the bottom of the display brings up a set of contextual options, but there's a bit of a lack of streamlining to get where you need to go.

When the Kindle isn't in use for a few minutes, the display pops up an interesting screen saver: I've seen birds and Oscar Wilde so far.

(Disclosure: I worked for Amazon for six months in 1996-1997, received no stock options, left on marvelous terms, and own no stock in the company.)

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November 19, 2007 12:00 PM

Is Kindle a sign of WiMax's future?

Posted by Tricia Duryee

On today, Jeff Bezos writes a letter to customers, about reading books -- "I love slipping into a comfortable chair for a long read....The physical book is so elegant that the artifact itself disappears into the background. The paper, glue, ink, and stitching that make up the book vanish, and what remains is the author's world."

And what also remains is Kindle, the wireless portable reading device that Amazon has been secretly working on for more than three years.

With the launch of Amazon's Kindle comes the first-of-its-kind look at what could be a whole new category of wireless devices.

In the WiMax industry, which is attempting to roll out wireless broadband nationwide, there's a lot of talk about consumer devices, including cameras, MP3 players and other devices, always be connected. Sprint Nextel talks about this the most, with Kirkland-based Clearwire also saying that's a potential outcome of having always-on Internet access.

The problem with this is determining how the user should be billed. If Kindle reaches out over the wireless infrastructure for ane-book, who pays for that airtime? The user? In the form of a monthly bill that requires a two-year commitment?

At that point, adoption is almost completely ruled out.

This is why it will be interesting to see how successful Kindle is. It is adopting a new set of billing rules that Sprint Nextel talks about for its WiMax network.

In the press release, Amazon pays for the wireless connectivity for Kindle so there are no monthly wireless bills, data plans, or service commitments for customers.

The next problem is the device's cost: $399.

WiMax is also supposedly able to help with that over the long run. Its chipsets are to be more in line with Wi-Fi, rather than the costly cellular chips that the Kindle requires.

Of course, the WiMax networks still have to be built, and it has to get enough volume for this to happen.

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September 20, 2007 1:32 PM

Cellphones trump TVs, but Internet No. 1

Posted by Tricia Duryee

Cellphones have become so essential, people would rather go without TV, but when choosing between cellphones and Internet access, the Internet wins, according to a new survey released this week.

JWT, a large U.S. advertising agency, asked about 1,000 people a number of technology questions earlier this month. The results show that cellphones and Internet access are playing a very important role in people's lives.

Asled how long people could go without Internet access, 15 percent of respondents said a day or less, 21 percent said a couple of days and 19 percent said a few days.

A lot of the findings seem to make a good business case for cellphone operators, as well as WiMax service providers such as Kirkland-based Clearwire and Sprint Nextel, which are all rolling out mobile Internet access.

"Mobility represents the next big shift," says Marian Salzman, JWT's executive vice president and chief marketing officer. "Older Americans are happy to sit in the same place to go online, while younger people expect to be able to connect anywhere at any time."

In fact, 48 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: "If I cannot access the Internet when I want to, I feel like something important is missing."

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September 4, 2007 10:05 AM

iPhones for sale in China, but no bargain

Posted by Kristi Heim

When the hottest electronics gadget in years meets the world's biggest producer of counterfeit goods, it just seemed inevitable that fake iPhones would spawn.

What's surprising is that some unauthorized iPhones sold in electronics markets in China's biggest cities, according to a Chinese news story, are actually more than double the price. It's not clear to me whether the iPhones in question are real or copies. The phones are manufactured for Apple by Hon Hai Precision Industry in Shenzhen, one of the cities where shoppers can find the unauthorized gadget for sale.

The fact that at least some people in China are willing to shell out $1,170 for this device speaks to the nature of the world's largest mobile phone market. Here's a good photo comparing a real iPhone with a Chinese version on the right.

While Chinese consumers seem unwilling to pay much for software, they're obsessive over the latest hardware. To keep trend-conscious users interested, new versions of mobile phones are released every six months, a much shorter time frame than they're updated here.

By the time Apple releases its iPhone in China in 2008, perhaps the country's more advanced mobile phone users will have moved on to the next craze.

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